Monday, November 12, 2018

Ice Skating at Stella Lake

 My friend Jenny and I had been watching the weather carefully. It hadn't snowed in awhile, and the temperatures were getting colder and colder. The Wheeler Peak Snotel site showed night temps in the teens. That meant it was time to do some high elevation ice skating! Jenny had discovered this last year when we had another dry winter, and it was amazingly fun. This time we combined forces on November 10 to ice skate at Stella Lake in Great Basin National Park.

The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive was open up to the Summit Trailhead. The trail was so inviting and had very little snow.

We weren't sure what the lake would be like. Last year the ice was only thick enough on the eastern lobe and we had open water on most of the lake. But this year, when we got our first view of Stella Lake, our jaws dropped. It was totally frozen! We gingerly stepped out on the ice to test it. It seemed good.

We found that the ice was good on most of the lake. The place it cracked the most was the cove where we had skated last winter. Most of the ice was quite smooth, with some bumpy spots. And the surrounding scenery? Marvelous.

Jenny was all smiles and quick to get out on the ice. We could see right through some of the ice to the bottom. It wasn't deeper than two feet anywhere in the lake.

This strange looking item is a buoy covered with a dark sock. Attached to it is a line with dataloggers to measure the water (ice) temperature at different depths. 

 Last year I had bought adjustable ice skates for Desert Boy and Desert Girl. That turned out to be a good choice, as both of them had fast-growing feet this last year. Desert Boy ended up not going, but his skates fit Jenny's kids, one the smallest size and the other the largest size. Hurray for adjustable skates!

Jenny is better than me at getting selfies, so thanks to her I'm in a photo! Look at that beautiful ice!

In some places there were really cool bubbles trapped in the ice.

 What!? Another photo of me in the same post!? This time with Desert Girl, who had gotten so warm that she had taken her coat off.
 Desert Girl was so happy.

She and Ava skated and skated.

Meanwhile Jenny and I took lots of photos.

We had the artistic segment.

The speed skating segment.

And even a little ice hockey.

Ice dancing.

Jenny challenged herself to do some artistic movements, which made me try them too. They are harder than they look! 

These girls were so full of energy.

I ended up taking approximately a zillion photos. Who could resist with such a beautiful backdrop?

Finally, the lake started being cast in shadow. Actually the southern end was shaded just after one in the afternoon. Yikes, so early! On the hike back, we took the opportunity to add in a little sledding.
What a great opportunity. If you're interested, keep an eye on the weather. The ice should be good, but if there's any precip, the road will close.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Western Regional Meeting of the NSS at Great Basin National Park

 Every fall, the Western Region of the National Speleological Society (NSS) holds an annual meeting. This year it was held at Great Basin National Park and organized by the Southern Nevada Grotto (caving club). The forecast wasn't great, but that didn't stop about 100 cavers from venturing out. After all, we were planning to spend a good amount underground, with temperatures of about 50 degrees F in the caves.

On Saturday morning, I joined Dave Bunnell's photo shoot in the Talus Room of Lehman Caves. This is a huge room that is off the regular tourist route, and the park wanted some photos to capture just how immense this room is. We found we can't get the whole room in just one photo because the floor fluctuates too much. But the photographers did get a bunch of great photos, including the Rainbow Wall (below).

In the afternoon, a variety of talks were held at Baker Hall (another nice place to get out of the cold and wet weather). 

I had Desert Girl with me and brought some boxes with me so she could make her own cave. She was excited to do that.

But then an opportunity came up to go into Little Muddy Cave with some other girls her age, and we jumped on that. 

Because I had been in the cave before, I led the trip and had the girls follow me and then the adults follow. The young girls were right behind me, loving it!

We eventually made it to the back of the cave and to the "Challenge Hole." Here's a dad giving it a try. He wasn't sure he could make it, but he did.

Leigh is heading down with no hands.

After going feet first, it was time to go head first, which was quite the plunge.

The girls kept going, trying it again and again.

Okay, some of the adults did too!

When we got back, we heard part of the business meeting and then it was time for a delicious dinner, catered by Salt & Sucre.

 Even in Baker Hall, coats and hats were being worn! It was about 20 degrees cooler than normal.

But what fun! Beginning cavers to experienced cavers were all intermingled, sharing stories.

The girls got back to making their cardboard cave.

Next was the Western Region auction with a variety of items from t-shirts to new rope.

The next morning I helped put on a mini-small party assisted rescue class. This class only lasted three hours, so we had to figure out what would be best to teach. One station was rigging for contingency, or in other words, how you can rig so if something goes wrong, you can make it right quickly.

Another station was traveling haul, one of my favorite small party techniques. You don't need any extra ropes, and if you have a couple pulleys, you can make quite an efficient system. 

Meanwhile the girls were practicing their knots in the corner.

Our third station was getting over a very difficult edge. If you have an extra ascender (mechanical or prusik) that can help a lot. Another trick is to tie a butterfly in the knot below you and stand up in that.

And back to the traveling haul with some different configurations students wanted to try (hint: a prusik at the top is not the most efficient way to set this up). 
Afterwards some folks did more caving, others started home. We had folks from California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Arizona attend. It was a lot of fun!

If you want to reminisce, here are posts from some other Western Regionals:
Lava Beds (2017), Motherlode/Sonora (2016), Joshua Tree (2015)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Canyoneering North Wash Area

 Some friends from Colorado (that I know from National Cave Rescue Commission activities) invited me to go canyoneering with them in the North Wash area south of Hanksville, Utah. It had been some time since I had gone canyoneering and I didn't have any plans for the weekend. My husband and kids were fine if I took off, so I gladly did so. The weather forecast was perfect, 0% chance of precipitation and temperatures in the 60s in the days and 40s at night.

I pulled into camp Friday night and met the rest of the group. They knew each other from being part of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, a volunteer organization that does mountain rescues near Boulder, Colorado. The next morning we separated into two groups, with two folks doing an ultra-hard canyon and the rest of us doing easier, more mellow canyons.

As we hiked to our canyon we enjoyed the beautiful red rock. Then, all of a sudden, the canyon appeared, a little crack in the earth. That's where we were headed! I was so excited. I felt like a kid again.

It had rained a couple days earlier, lots of rain, and even though our canyon was supposed to be dry, it had puddles.

So the challenge became staying out of the puddles. 

It made for some fun expressions.

 Andrew made all of it look easy.

It was fun trying some extra stemming when we didn't really have to. None of the water was over knee deep.

One of the things I like best about canyons is their light. The shadows are always changing, highlighting different parts of the rock. 

We had a few short rappels on this route through Leprechaun Left fork.

Another fun "avoid the water" problem.

The canyon had some long, skinny parts.

 Here are Becca and her brother, a herpetologist who was excited to see some lizards out sunning themselves.
 The canyon opened up a lot more at the bottom.

And an artsy shot, just for fun. When we finished the canyon, we went back to camp and had lunch. 

Then we took off for our second canyon, Blarney Left Fork. 

It had a fun entrance rappel.

 It was cool seeing the bands of cliffs.

Once again, we were diving into the crack. This one had a cave-like entrance, scooting under a big chockstone.

We all really enjoyed this canyon. It had some fun obstacles and was very pretty.

When we got back to camp, it was dark, and our friends in the extra-hard canyon weren't back. That wasn't good. They had told us that if they weren't back, we should come look for them. We ate dinner first, then took off with extra rope and rescue gear. We couldn't hear them when we yelled and whistled to them at the exit of the canyon, so we contacted the local sheriff's department with a Delorme Inreach (there wasn't any cell service). They said they couldn't come out until the next morning. So we continued searching by going up along the rim of the canyon. That wasn't easy at all, but fortunately Becca had the Road Trip Ryan app on her phone, which gave a track, and we could follow that. Eventually we heard their voices and sighed in relief when they said they weren't hurt, just stuck.

We found an anchor on the edge and Andrew went to the edge to check on them. Too far downstream, they couldn't get to that rope. So we found another anchor upstream and tried again. Too far upstream. Third time was the charm. We had brought 600 feet of rope, split into three sections, and we weren't sure if that was enough. We also had assorted gear to do hauls if needed, but what they wanted was mechanical ascenders so they could get out faster than with their prussiks. I was glad I had my frog system (an efficient rope-climbing system) and sent that down. While we waited for them to climb out, we enjoyed a magnificent dark sky, full of stars and the Milky Way. We heard coyotes howl, and echoes bounced off the canyon walls, sounding eerie. The wind came up and was cold, but we had brought layers and blankets.

The rescue group also had a couple radios, which helped us a bunch. We told the sheriff's office we had made contact and there were no injuries. They said don't attempt a vertical rescue, but we assured them that with a mountain rescue group and cave rescue experience, we were fine doing so. I was very glad of all the small party rescue techniques I had in my mind. Even though the two weren't hurt, I was going over options in my mind, playing the "What if" game. 

When the guys came out, they were very thirsty and hungry. It had taken them six hours to get to the crux of the canyon, and they spent two hours trying to get past it. It turned out that they were missing a critical piece of climbing gear and didn't want to risk their lives free climbing a very exposed chimney. So they hunkered down in a canyon that had no places to sit or stand. Instead, they were stemming across the canyon, with a 30-foot drop below them. They said that even though they knew their friends were going to come for them, they had plenty of time for scary thoughts to cross their minds, like what if they never got out of the canyon.
Andrew, the ever-smiling rescuer.
We made it back to camp at 2 am, about five hours after setting off. We stayed up for awhile, debriefing and joking and having a good time. Eventually it was time for me to get to sleep, although some of the others stayed up even longer. The wind had come up and was blowing 30mph, so it wasn't the best sleep, but it was something. We decided to skip our morning canyon and went out for a late breakfast (brunch) instead.

It was a fun and memorable weekend, and we all learned something from it. We were glad no one got hurt. And I guess one take-home message is that if you're going to get stuck in a canyon, it sure helps to have your own rescue team nearby!
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